Navigating the biting phase in toddlers can be a challenging yet common experience for parents. Here’s what you need to know about why toddlers bite, how to handle situations when your child is bitten, and strategies to redirect your child’s behavior if they are the ones doing the biting.
When do toddlers start biting and why does it happen?
Biting is considered a normal part of childhood development and typically occurs between the ages of one and three. Toddlers may bite for various reasons:
- Teething: Biting can provide temporary relief for swollen gums during the teething process.
- Expression: Toddlers may use biting as a way to express themselves physically or emotionally when they are still learning effective verbal communication.
- Attention-seeking: Biting may be a way for toddlers to attract attention from adults, especially when they are unable to express frustration through words.
- Sensory-seeking: Biting can also be a form of sensory-seeking behavior, similar to how adults may chew gum or snack while working, helping toddlers to calm themselves down.
What should parents keep in mind if their child is bitten by another child?
If your child is the one who got bitten, take immediate steps to address their needs:
- Wash the affected area with soap and water.
- If the bite is bleeding, consult with your pediatrician as a precaution.
- Talk to your child about what happened and provide emotional support.
- Assess if any additional conversations with the parents or caregivers of the child who bit are necessary, approaching the discussion with empathy and a focus on finding solutions.
Remember that some children who bite may have challenges with self-regulation or be neurodivergent. Collaborate with the other parents to identify strategies to reduce opportunities for biting in the future.
What if your child is the biter?
If your child is the one doing the biting, it’s essential to approach the situation with understanding rather than guilt:
- Determine the cause: Identify triggers for the biting incidents, such as specific activities or emotions.
- Different responses for different situations: Have different responses prepared based on the cause of the biting.
- Redirect attention: For attention-seeking biting, focus attention on the child who was bitten. Redirect the biter to a different activity and praise positive behavior.
- Teach alternative communication: If the child was trying to communicate something, provide them with more appropriate means of communication. Practice alternative ways of expressing feelings during pretend play for children with limited verbal skills.
Strategies to redirect children from biting:
- Teething-related biting: Offer firm, rubber teething rings, rub your child’s gums with a cool, wet washcloth, or try soft foods like applesauce or yogurt. Consult with your pediatrician for pain relief medication if needed.
- Provide safe alternatives: Offer safe alternatives for children to chew on and clearly communicate that biting is not acceptable.
- Identify triggers: Identify specific times or triggers that may lead to biting and teach your child words to express their feelings positively.
- Positive reinforcement: Reinforce positive behavior by praising your child when they use alternative means of expressing themselves.
- Seek professional help: If behavioral issues persist, seek help from professionals such as your pediatrician, occupational therapist, or speech therapist. They can identify underlying causes and provide proactive suggestions.
Navigating the biting phase requires patience, understanding, and proactive communication. By addressing the root causes and teaching alternative behaviors, parents can help their toddlers transition through this developmental phase.